From monetizing your IGTV channel to promoting your stock portfolio, here are a few ideas on how to make money with photography on Instagram in 2020.
Instagram is celebrating its tenth birthday this year and it’s safe to say the social media app has come a long way from its sepia-filtered origins. The photo-sharing platform has metamorphosed into a behemoth network that boasts a steady one-billion active reported users. Overall, some thirty-five percent of U.S. adults are using Instagram in 2020, according to SproutSocial. It’s the second-most logged-in social media site for daily use after Facebook — six in ten users log in at least once daily.
Instagram has become a powerful tool for photographers, offering mass exposure, new sales channels for small businesses, and both passive and active sources of income for creators.
Plus there’s no denying the power of the influencer. Influencer marketing has taken over, and Instagram is the leading platform in influencer marketing (with TikTok quickly coming up in the game). Photographers are selling prints on Instagram, promoting stock portfolios, and making money through sponsored posts. Small businesses are utilizing new features — such as Instagram Shops and Link in Bio — to promote products available for purchase on their websites. In the end, you need a solid vision to earn real money on Instagram, so we turned to the pros to find out what their top tips are.
1. Authenticity Is Key
“I think the best way to make money from Instagram as a photographer is to present yourself as part of the product,” says Offset artist Annapurna Mellor, from Yorkshire, England. “Show your personality and style through stories, IGTV, or posts. Sometimes, it’s also a requirement of assignment work that I post IG Stories or a selection of images on my main feed as part of the job.”
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2019 has been the hardest year of my life. It’s been a year of grief and pain, and trying to get through it all. What I have been incredibly grateful for this year is my work and how much satisfaction it has given me. I want to thank all the photo editors, producers (or similar job title!) who have worked with me this year on so many amazing projects around the world. Also the wonderful teams I have worked with on location. Through everything, my work has kept me going and I have felt very lucky to be able to both have flexibility in my work and also to be able to do something I love so much for a living. It’s impossible for me to reflect any further on 2019, but I look to 2020 with hope of a better year and new adventures planned 🙏 Photo by the very talented Henry J Kamara @jaykammy during a project with Canon in Italy at the beginning of the year.
In addition to influencer marketing — which has become its own industry, with creators who rely exclusively on income generated from Instagram-based partnerships — there are numerous revenue streams for photographers to tap into on Instagram.
2. Use Instagram Highlights for Business Updates
With weddings, family reunions, senior portraits, and most travel on pause or canceled altogether due to complications from COVID-19, now is a good time to start rebuilding a community of customers ready to hire you when restrictions ease up and it’s safe to shoot again. Create an Instagram Stories Highlight that covers frequently asked questions about when and if you’re accepting bookings, what safety measures you’ll be taking, and if you offer gift cards.
For small businesses with a business profile, you can share an Action Button to your Stories, allowing users to click through to purchase gift cards on the third-party site of your choosing.
3. Create Shoppable Feed Posts and Stories Using Instagram Shopping
Whereas in the early days of IG, businesses and creators had to link to their online shops using clunky third-party apps, Instagram Shopping offers a more immersive storefront. Now, users can simply click on an image in a feed or IG Stories that features the tiny shopping bag icon. It takes them directly to a product page where they can see the item image, description, and cost, as well as a link to where they can purchase the product. Accounts can tag up to five physical products per post.
For accounts boasting more than 10,000 followers, users can also add a Swipe-Up link in Stories. This is a streamlined place to sell physical goods, such as photo prints or gift cards, because it doesn’t ask the user to leave the app. Make them even more obvious by including a call to action, such as “Tap to buy!”
4. Incorporate Affiliate Marketing
If users seem eager to learn more about what lenses you love, what camera bags you use on shoots, or your favorite books, it might make sense to earn commission on your recommendations via affiliate links. There are two models you can sign up for:
- pay-per-click (where you earn money for each click you direct to a website), or
- cost-per-acquisition (where you earn a set percentage of a final sale — most influencers earn anywhere from ten to twenty percent per sale).
Shopstyle, Amazon Associates, rewardStyle, and Avantlink allow you to create an account, apply to work with certain brands, and start earning passive income. There are also companies that work with influencers directly, so check your favorite brands’ websites to see if they have an affiliate program you can apply for. This is the option for you if you have a highly engaged audience and want a low-input, low-risk revenue generator.
P.S. This could be a great opportunity to share your Shutterstock Referral Code with potential customers and new contributors!
5. Launch and Curate an IGTV Channel
If you aren’t using IGTV, you’re missing out. It’s no secret that the Instagram algorithm prioritizes and rewards user accounts that are actively engaged with its tools, and right now, that’s IGTV and Instagram Live (which can be recorded and uploaded to IGTV).
Unlike feed posts, IGTV posts give you the option to utilize clickable links. This makes them the stronger post format for selling products, services, or linking to affiliate content. Instagram also added an IGTV tab to their Explore page, meaning your videos could reach entirely new targeted audiences.
Beauty influencers have capitalized on the tool to share makeup tutorials and link to makeup products. Follow their lead with curated photo tips and direct customers and clients to your bookings portal, print shop, or stock portfolio site.
Bonus Tip: Not ready to dive into producing videos or Lives? Experiment with Stories by hosting a flash sale, with links to deeply discounted products, like presets, prints, digital photo bundles, or online courses, available for twenty-four hours.
6. Partner with Brands or Create Sponsored Posts
The #sponsored post isn’t going away any time soon. In a recent collaborative report from Later and Fohr on the state of influencer marketing in 2020, influencer marketing is set to become a $8-billion (!!) industry this year. Now might be a good time to approach brands you already buy from about partnering up to share products or messages that feel authentic to you and your content.
Don’t worry if you haven’t amassed a huge following. Micro-influencers (accounts with fewer than 25K followers) often receive higher engagement rates than influencers with larger followers.
If you’ve never produced a sponsored post before, start small. Design a one-page PDF (you can use a free service like Editor) with your name, basic Instagram stats, a few example posts, and your email, that you can approach brands with.
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Since we have all been stuck at home, one thing that I’ve come to appreciate is my rain gear. With not much going on other than the excitement and projects I create for myself, I now look forward to the rain. I’ve always enjoyed the smell, the sound, and sight of droplets falling from the sky, but since the start of this pandemic, I now look at the rain as a space to exist, play, and adventure in – albeit from my yard. It’s hard to explain the ethereal feeling of rain falling on your face. The satisfaction of jumping in a puddle. Or even the freeing feeling of running or dancing in a downpour. Nothing compares. . . Though, as I become older, the best part about being in the rain all day is being able to take off my jacket and pants and see that I’m still completely dry. I know that it sounds simple, but not too long ago, before I knew about outdoor gear, I was someone who wore a hoodie or windbreakers as my rain layer. Needless to say I was always wet and cold. So no matter how many experiences I have, clothes that keep me dry will always blow my mind. I hope you’re looking forward to the rain as much as I am. However, if you live somewhere where it rains all the time, my apologies. . . Head to the link in bio to check out my latest campaign with @backcountry titled, “Right as Rain” 🌧 . . 📸- @cliford.mervil . . #findyourbackcountry #backcountry
And remember, you don’t have to accept every offer presented to you. “I get a lot of requests from people wanting to pay me for sharing content on my feed, and truthfully, I decline almost all of them,” says Offset artist Jessie Brinkman Evans. “If you’re going to post paid content, make sure it’s relevant to who you are. I only accept paid posts if they’re akin to something I would likely purchase myself or be posting. It’s helped me to not only relax but also to find some really incredible, like-minded clients to create images for. Don’t be afraid to approach those you’d love to work with! You might shoot something on spec, pitch them a wild, fun idea, and they’ll love it.”
Bonus Tip: There are a myriad of methods brands use to measure their return on investment when working with influencers but, at minimum, be prepared to share screenshots of your posts’ performance.
To keep users engaged with your content longer, take advantage of interactive polls, quizzes, questions, and timers that help signal to Instagram that more users want to see this content, potentially upping your post performance. Authenticity continues to outperform overly-curated content, so aim for behind-the-scenes content and thought-provoking captions, making your focus to connect with your audience. According to the report, longer captions that actually say something get better results than short quippy ones.
7. Optimize Your Link in Bio
Driving traffic to the link in your Instagram profile “Bio” section is still one of the best, most effective ways to make sales from the app. However, plopping a lengthy URL in your Bio isn’t going to get you very far. First, tell people to go to the link in your Bio in the captions of your feed and Stories posts, when appropriate.
Second, make sure you have a call to action in your Bio, such as: “Hit the link below to shop,” with an arrow icon. If you want to include more than one URL in your Bio, services that are optimized for mobile, such as Linktree or Linkin.bio by Later, allow you to create streamlined, clickable landing pages. From there, direct users to your print shop, stock portfolio, website (and more), and start making money.
8. Generate New Work Leads
Generating passive or active revenue directly via Instagram isn’t the best option for every photographer. That said, Instagram is one of the most powerful global portfolios out there — so don’t ignore its potential. India-based Offset artist Manish Lakhani says that: “Instagram is a promotional tool for my work rather than a tool to generate income. I use it to promote my work and create awareness. For me, winning [my followers’] trust is more important than making a few bucks.”
Set yourself up for success. Double-check that your email button is linked to an active account (write it out in your bio, too), and come up with a concise and catchy description of who you are and what you do. Remember to also list the services you offer. Manish’s bio is a great example. He makes it clear that he’s an ambassador for Sony, lists out some of his most impressive clients, and links to a landing page where you can sign up for his photo tours and get in touch with him.
Cover image by Jacob Lund.
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